Staying fit while training for your next big challenge
Running a trail marathon in the Alps, swimming across Lake Windermere, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, are these on your list of things to do? You’re not alone. A thirst for the next big active experience means more and more of us are channelling our inner Ant Middleton and adding physical challenges to the calendar.
According to Ultra Running magazine, the number of people in the US completing an ultramarathon – that’s any running race longer than 26.2 miles – has jumped by nearly 500% since 2003. Sport England estimate that around 215,000 people in England completed at least one triathlon last year – around 580 a day – and muddy Obstacle Course Racing is the fastest growing mass participation event in the UK.
But all these endorphin highs can take their toll on the body. Extreme physical challenges may be fun but the training and completion of them can be gruelling, particularly if you like to rack them up and take on a few each year.
Which is where we come in. If you’re planning on trekking across the Sahara or scaling Everest, make sure you add these five simple health hacks to your training checklist. That way you’ll be fit and ready to start planning the next challenge when you’re back.
Get some rest
If you’re following a training plan and it has rest days on it – use them. Tempting as it is, sneaking in an extra session when you should be putting your feet up isn’t going to give you a competitive advantage, in fact, it could be detrimental.
Rest allows your body to adapt to the stress of training, giving your muscles time to repair and strengthen between sessions and allowing energy stores in the muscles to be replenished. Rest days are also vital for your sanity, giving you time to catch up with family and friends and take a break from exercise.
Skipping on the downtime could result in injury and something known as overtraining syndrome (OTS). When excessive exercise is done without sufficient rest your performance can plateau or even nosedive, you lose motivation and can suffer symptoms such as fatigue, depression and insomnia.
If you find yourself with a gap between training for challenges build a rest period into your schedule. Many elite athletes have an off-season or training break to allow them to return refreshed and refocused. This doesn’t mean you need to give up training completely but it’s a good time to mix it up. Try cross training, ditch the GPS watch and rediscover the fun of unstructured exercise.
Fuel for recovery
If your body’s taken a battering during a tough training session, eating and drinking the right things at the right time can help you recover so you’re ready to tackle the next workout.
After endurance training such as a long run or cycle, you should aim to replenish lost glycogen stores with a snack or sports drink. Glycogen is the fuel stored in our muscles that gives us energy. Studies show the magic ratio for glycogen replenishment is 3 to 4:1 carbs to protein and the optimum time to take on fuel is within 30 minutes of activity.
Opt for a sports recovery drink or bar or, if you prefer to eat real food, try something like nut butter on a wholemeal bagel, chocolate milk or a banana and yoghurt.
Bolster your immune system
Viruses and man flu can wreak havoc on challenge plans, derailing training schedules and cancelling workouts. Bolster your immune system by doing as your mum said and eating plenty of whole foods, nuts, fruit and veg. The essential micronutrients they contain can help prevent illness.
Although there’s little evidence as yet on exactly how and if they work, many people find supplementing their diet with probiotics – good bacteria that help keep the gut healthy – helps protect against colds and digestive illnesses too. Try Sense for Gut Health or Symprove.
Develop a drinking habit
Your body is made up of around 60% water so, unsurprisingly, being dehydrated can have a big effect on how it functions. Keeping fluid levels topped up during exercise helps prevent the energy zapping effects of dehydration but make sure you keep an eye on how much you drink the rest of the time too.
Drinking water regularly throughout the day will ensure you’re always hydrated and ready for your workout – training when dehydrated puts extra strain on the heart so you’ll have to work harder. Taking on some refreshing H2O after exercise is important too as it replenishes fluids lost during training and helps muscles recover ready for your next session.
Get serious about sleep
When you’ve got a packed training schedule alongside work and family commitments, sleep can be one of the first things to suffer. But getting less time than you need in the land of nod could have a knock-on effect on your training and health.
Sleep is when your muscles grow and repair and if you want to train at your best, getting enough shuteye is imperative. A lack of sleep can affect your rate of perceived exertion (RPE) making training feel much harder, so you give up sooner. One time trial study found that, after a disturbed night’s sleep, cyclists covered distances around 4% shorter than they did when fully rested.
A lack of sleep could also result in injury as tiredness compromises your cognitive functions. A study of high school athletes found that those who slept for less than eight hours a night were 70% more likely to report being injured. If you’re training for a challenge, an injury is not your friend.
Monitor your heart rate
Heart rate training is primarily used to ensure you’re training at the right intensity to meet your goals each session, but it’s a good gauge of overall health too.
If you’re training regularly it’s worth investing n a heart rate monitor, chest strap or sports watch with an inbuilt monitor. Knowing your regular resting heart rate means you’ll be able to detect any changes and look out for warning signs. An elevated heart rate could be an indicator that you’re fighting an infection or are at risk of overtraining and need to take a rest. This can help you know when to take a day off or risk making things worse.
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